Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Stuff & Non-Sense

I am sifting through my belongings these days, filtering them with the question "Do I love this enough to pay to move it?" Since I don't know if or when I'll be moving, I am a bit indecisive on many things, but adamantly certain about others, and those are going out the door.

There is something in all of us that makes us as acquisitive as magpies. It starts early. Nearly every child has a security object of some sort: a beloved blanket, a particular stuffed animal, a favorite pacifier, a possession that reassures her that all is right with the world. Every parent has tales of sneaking the filthy object into the washing machine while the child sleeps, hoping to avoid the restless, tearful, anxiety-ridden hour that the lovey is out of his hands.

If only it could stop with that single object. The security blanket is an irrational selection, made without language or even much memory. It is a purely sensory choice. Stories abound of parents who have tried to have two or three of the object, just in case, only to have the newer, cleaner object rejected with scorn. Still, managing and housing that single object is a relatively simple task, but only the first of the many layers of stuff you will acquire with your children.

After the objects loved for their sensory value come the objects beloved for their familiarity. The endless list of favored place mats, particular tee-shirts, and oft-read bedtime stories occupy space in a parent's data base of things that make a child happy. As children grope for some small measure of control in a world that, from their point of view, is constantly expanding, familiar objects give them a place to focus, a way to re-orient themselves when things are constantly shifting.

At some point some object will become saturated with a particular memory and then become impossible to part with: a lucky talisman, a gift from a special someone, a piece of clothing worn on a particularly memorable occasion. These items multiply over the years and can accumulate to alarming proportions. I know from personal experience that every one of the hundred stuffed animals a couple of kids can accumulate over ten years has a back story. "I won that kitty at the school carnival in second grade. Amanda gave me that for my ninth birthday. Grandma brought that when I had the chicken pox." You might swear you've never laid eyes on the object before, but your child remembers each one individually.

Next comes the collection phase, where your child fixates on a particular item and accumulates as many variations of the item as possible. Coins, stamps, pens, bottle caps, baseball cards, the possibilities are endless. And there is such joy each time another piece of the collection is acquired that even after the child loses interest, neither you nor she is willing to get rid of the collection.

There is no sense to this attachment to stuff. There are a few special people who can hold it all in check, but most of us are drowning in our stuff. And all of this is layered upon the stuff we actually need - dishes and screwdrivers and shoes.

The effect of our stuff on our relationships is probably the place where faith intersects this question. We come into this world attached only to our mothers, and we leave it attached only to God. No possession can replace relationship. If we are followers of Jesus, we follow a leader who lived simply, unencumbered by the responsibilities of stuff. We follow a leader who lived a life rich with relationships: a deep attachment to God, a core group of close friends, and many, many casual yet caring encounters with people he healed and loved and taught. Does your stuff make sense in the context of your faith journey? Does your stuff block your child's view of your faith life? Does your stuff make sense, or is it nonsense? 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

It's NOT That Complicated

I think Albert Einstein may have generated more of my favorite quotes than any other source besides Jesus. One of my very favorites is: "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." In matters of faith, "this is most certainly true" (to quote another favorite genius, Martin Luther.) I have heard people explain very complicated ideas to children in a way that they can understand. Games, pictures, Legos, food, pets, relationships can all be used to explain things to kids. Experiential Learning - learning by doing. Did you learn anything about monopolies by playing the game? Have you ever heard someone explain architecture in terms of Jenga or Legos? Children learn by doing.

So parents, if you are having trouble explaining faith to your child, maybe you don't understand it well enough. Maybe the faith you had when you left middle school hasn't been taken out, dusted off, and test driven for a long time. So when your child parrots what he learned in Sunday School, "Let's pray about it, Ms. _______ says that God will listen to our prayers!", you may feel uncomfortable. You may not know how to respond, or you may even undermine what your child has learned. Why not simply take that worthy piece of advice, sit down with your child, and pray about it? Even if prayer is your normal habit, you may be surprised by what happens next!

As many of you know, I am in process of a job search. Last week I got a call inviting me to come in for a face-to-face interview in another state. A state where I don't know a single soul, have only driven across, and one that is different from both the Midwest and Texas where I have spent most of my life. So I reverted to the simplest formula I knew: I prayed. I told God that I was afraid. I told God that I would go if it that was the plan, but couldn't I please go somewhere where I knew someone? Guess what happened next. Yep, I crossed paths with someone. She isn't just from the state, or the metro area, or even the town. She lives two blocks from the church where I will be interviewing, and we already have many things in common. In a crowd of 6,000 people, I met the one person who was the answer to my prayers.

Dust off those most basic tools of faith and put them to use. Prayer is a good place to start because you can easily do it with your children. Give thanks, ask forgiveness, pray for people who need things, and ask God for guidance in your own life. Don't forget to pray for the pets. It will help you pass on faith to your children. Keep track of your prayers and it will help you increase your trust in God. It's really not that complicated. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Rites of Passage

Last Sunday,  I got to stand in for a friend as her daughter Ellen had her senior pictures taken. The young woman in question is lovely, and the photographer took us to a busy street and a quiet park for two very charming sets of pictures. It struck me that even in this day and age when young people are posting or messaging or tweeting pictures of themselves nearly every day, they still find marking this particular juncture in their lives important enough so set aside time, hire a professional, and do their best to fix themselves in this moment in history.

For this young women, and most of the other young people I know, graduating from High School will not be the highest honor of their lives. Nor will getting married, the only other time most of them will pay to have their picture taken. They will have higher degrees and make important contributions to community or business or family or some other institution. Yet we and they feel it is necessary to mark this particular moment as special. I wonder why.

Is it because of the potential we see in them? They stand poised to leap in a direction yet unknown and the world is theirs for the taking. They have not started down a career path; almost the entire spectrum of possible occupations is open to them. Is it because we are getting a glimmer of what is to come: the first signs of complex thinking, talents beginning to emerge and converge in interesting ways? I have been rolling this over in my mind for several days now and have reached a somewhat un-profound conclusion:

We treasure this moment because it represents HOPE.

Hope is one of those things that keep us going. In the midst of news of increasing temperatures, crime rates, and cost-of-living and decreasing family stability, safety, and ability to predict the future, it is refreshing to gaze upon these young people and imagine what they will become. Hope that this young person, who only a year ago needed to be transported from place to place by an adult, can now begin to take care of herself, and her own needs. Hope that she can navigate to a place of joy, a place with meaningful work and relationships and dreams. Hope for the best. It makes me smile to realize that as a culture we mark the moments of greatest hope with professional photos: babies, high school seniors, brides and grooms.

Jeremiah 29:11 says: For surely I know the plans I have for you,says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope." In this rite of passage, God, the adults, and most young people are of one accord. That's a good reason to keep on marking this milestone!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

MGM - Take Me Away

When my girls were younger and still spending their summers at home, we liked to pick a theme for a summer "film festival." We would would pick a theme, director, or series and watch all the movies over the course of the summer break. This morning I ran across a list of 50 movies from 50 states that sounded like a fun armchair vacation for this summer. I've already seen and enjoyed about half of these, and several of them are not family fare, but it reminded me of how much fun we had watching movies together as a family. Maybe your family can have a film festival too!

So, here's the list, in alphabetical order by state. I'm thinking of watching them as if this were a road trip, starting in Texas and heading East, West, or North. Or maybe I will put them in order according to the year they were made. Or maybe in alpha order by movie title. That's probably not important.  I'll post a note or two about each one, in case you're interested. So - here they are, courtesy of Mark Demming at Movie Talk (Yahoo):

Alabama - To Kill a Mockingbird
Alaska - Insomnia
Arizona - Raising Arizona
Arkansas - Sling Blade
California - American Graffiti
Colorado - The Shining
Connecticut - Far From Heaven
Delaware - Fight Club
Florida - Magic Mike
Georgia - Gone With the Wind
Hawaii - From Here to Eternity
Idaho - Napoleon Dynamite
Illinois - The Blues Brothers
Indiana - Hoosiers
Iowa - Field of Dreams
Kansas - Winchester 73 
Kentucky - Coal Miner's Daughter
Louisiana - Interview with the Vampire
Maine - Shawshank Redemption
Maryland - Diner
Massachusetts - The Town
Michigan - Gran Torino
Minnesota - Purple Rain 
Mississippi - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Missouri - Waiting for Guffman
Montana - A River Runs Through It
Nebraska - Election
Nevada - Oceans Eleven
New Hampshire - What About Bob?
New Jersey - Atlantic City
New Mexico - High Noon
New York - Manhattan
North Carolina - Bull Durham
North Dakota - Fargo 
Ohio - Heathers
Oklahoma - The Outsiders 
Oregon - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Pennsylvania - Ground Hog Day
Rhode Island - Me, Myself, and  Irene
South Carolina - Glory
South Dakota - Dances with Wolves
Tennessee - Nashville
Texas - Giant
Utah - 127 Hours
Vermont - Dead Poets Society
Virginia - Donnie Darko
Washington - Singles
West Virginia - We Are Marshall
Wisconsin - Lars and the Real Girl
Wyoming - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

My normal blogging will resume next week, though it may be heavily influenced by this endeavor!